Hype and rumor abound regarding the college admission process. What was once a casual application to a few colleges years ago has become a major production much like the preparation required for an actor’s audition. And, the preparation, just like the audition, is no guarantee that you will get the seat or the part.
The academically prepared student: Number one predictor
What colleges look for first and foremost, according to the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) is the academically well prepared student. The definition of “well prepared” varies, but not widely among college admissions offices when it comes to academic preparation. Admission committees have keen eyes as to what they are looking for regarding the predictability of a student succeeding on their college campus.
The core element to any college application is the academic profile. This would include the strength of the courses, the grades in those courses, and how rigorous the curriculum is as compared to that of other students who hold the same title in their respective high schools around the country. For years the research consistently indicates that the best way to predict college academic success is by looking at the grades while in high school. The attitude, motivation, and maturity of the student shine through with the evidence that the student has already been able to tackle the high school curriculum; colleges do not admit students based on potential.
The curriculum choices are just as important as the grades today. The average grade point average of a college bound high school student is now 3.4 or a B+ average. With such grade inflation, colleges over the past 20 years have increasingly analyzed the transcripts to see if student took the most rigorous curriculum offered by their high school.
The course selections, in fact, are often more important than the grades in those courses. There is much conflicting advice from counselors and high school teachers who say the overall GPA is more significant. The best scenario, obviously, is to submit to colleges the highest curriculum possible with the highest grades in those courses.
C grades: Not the end of the world
If a student struggles in a course and receives a C in that course, colleges often look at that grade in context. However, if C grades are consistent, then that does hurt the applicant. It would show the student as a C level student and the lack of academic maturity. Special cases can be explained if the Cs are because of family issues or the like, but the grades need to pop back up, showing the net grade report which reflects these special circumstances.
Teachers often write recommendations for their C students! This is helpful to the college admission officers reading the application. The key here is if the teacher can verify that the student worked. If the teacher indicates in writing that the student worked very hard, came in for extra help, got a tutor, and showed the academic maturity required for college, then this can only serve in the student’s favor in the admission process. The key is the relationship between the teacher and the student. This communication can help the teacher monitor the progress and can therefore speak knowledgeably regarding the effort put forth in the class. Predictability of this stick-to-it-eveness in high school will carry over the college classroom.
The sports star: Not a shoe in for admission
Being head of the cheerleading squad or student body president or the number one piano player in the State will not guarantee college admission success. These activities, although impressive and are some of what colleges look for, if the grades are not evident, then these matter very little.
Even athletes need to keep up their grades these days. Coaches are sometimes contacted by the admissions office of the college telling them that the grades show a high predictability that college performance would be poor, especially if they are playing a sport. Sadly, despite the coach’s selling the campus to the recruited, the admissions office can potentially step in and stop the athlete at the locker room door. Athletic departments are now required to be accountable for their students’ graduation rates which make the admission office watch dog approach more significant to both the coach and the player.
Grade behavior in high school is key to any admission decision. Extracurricular activities and leadership come into play only if the admissions committees are satisfied with the potential to be successful in a rigorous curriculum at the college level. Past performance predicts future performance. Colleges do not admit students based on potential, they base their decisions based on the evidence.
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